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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter January 6, 2015

Autobiography, Memoir and Beyond: Fiction and Non-Fiction in Philip Roth’s The Facts and Paul Auster’s Winter Journal

Robert Lehnert
From the journal Anglia

Abstract

This article examines the possibility of non-fictional life writing in the face of postmodernist critique. With the rise of postmodernism came a fundamental distrust of traditional autobiographies and memoirs claiming to tell the absolute truth. Nonetheless, even postmodern writers continue to publish autobiographical texts labeled as ‘non-fiction’. In American literature, two examples of both sides of this debate are Philip Roth’s 1988 work The Facts and Paul Auster’s Winter Journal, published in 2012. Whereas Roth metafictionally echoes the postmodernist concerns, Auster claims that Winter Journal contains “[n]o elements of fiction”. This article examines whether such a claim can hold. It argues that Auster has indeed found a form of non-fictional life writing that is largely immune to postmodern criticism. Based on Lyotard’s idea of the crisis of master-narratives, it shows that Auster avoids the charge of fictionality by skillfully employing micro-narratives and, paradoxically, by establishing an inherently subjective narrative situation. Winter Journal’s leitmotiv of the author coming to terms with his mortality is not presented as a coherent narrative. Instead, this implicit narrative undercurrent needs to be made explicit by the reader.

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Published Online: 2015-1-6
Published in Print: 2014-12-1

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